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House GOP members are trying to force immigration vote

U.S. Capitol

Evan Nichols via Wikimedia Commons

Last Updated May 9, 2018 4:59 PM EDT

A group of House Republicans is now trying to use a procedural manuever to force the House to vote on immigration legislation

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida; Jeff Denham, R-California; and Will Hurd, R-Texas, are filing a discharge petition Wednesday. If they convince a majority of the members of the House to sign on, they can force a vote on their bill that allows what's known as a "queen of the hill" vote on four separate immigration bills: A more conservative immigration bill sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and Mike McCaul, R-Texas, that passed the Judiciary Committee;  a version of the DREAM Act sponsored by Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard; and the bipartisan USA Act sponsored by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-California. There would also be a vote on a bill of choice offered by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

The "queen of the hill" is the bill that receives the most votes, and that would be the one to advance to the Senate.

So far, 17 Republicans have signed onto the petition. In addition to the three above, they are: Reps. David Valadao, R-California; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida; Mia Love, R-Utah; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida; Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania;  Fred Upton, R-Michigan; David Reichert, R-Washington; Mike Coffman, R-Colorado; Chris Collins, R-New York; John Faso, R-New York; Mark Amodei, R-Nevada; Leonard Lance, R-New York; Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania; and Elise Stefanik, R-New York. (You can track the petition here.)

Eight of the signatories talked about their decision to challenge their own leadership in a news conference Wednesday afternoon: Hurd spoke of the need to strengthen border security and end uncertainty for the population of DACA recipients whose lives are in limbo. Ros-Lehtinen said she herself might have been a DACA recipient but for the special provisions afforded to Cuban immigrants. Faso is concerned about farmers in his upstate New York district being able to find agricultural workers to help with the coming apple harvest. Above all, though, they wanted a chance to act.

"If we are not allowed to bring bills on the floor, to debate bills on the floor, then the people that have voted for me to represent them will not have a voice on the House floor and this is what that is about," Love said.

Both Curbelo and Denham called the discharge petition a "member-driven process" designed to allow members of the House to play a more active role in the immigration debate.

If all 193 Democrats sign the petition, it would take just 25 Republicans to force a vote. A Democratic leadership aide said Democrats are giving the Republicans space to sign on and show their commitment to the issue before adding their signatures, but all Democrats are committed to debating DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) legislation on the floor.

One Republican leader expressed his distaste for the legislative tactic.

"I don't believe in discharge petitions," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said Wednesday. "You're turning the floor over. I think it's better to use the legislative process."

Curbelo said that when he discussed the discharge petition with Speaker Ryan, Ryan "made it clear that his preference was not a discharge process."

During an April press conference, Ryan explained his opposition to a forced vote, saying, "I don't want to bring legislation that won't get signed into law. I don't think it makes any sense to bring a bill through, or a process through that will produce a bill that will get a presidential veto. I just don't think that's in anyone's interest."

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, authored the border security portion of the conservative Goodlatte bill that would get a vote if this discharge petition succeeds. He won't sign the petition because he believes it will bring other bills to the floor that he doesn't support. Still, he said he thinks it does "turn up the pressure for us to get something on the floor in the near future." The Republican leadership has been holding listening sessions on that bill to see if there's enough support to pass the measure, but have not yet committed to putting it on the floor.

Under the House rules, once a discharge petition has gathered 218 votes, it may be offered on the floor on the second or fourth Monday of the month after seven legislative days have passed. The next opportunity for the bill to receive a vote on the floor under the current House calendar is June 25, and after that July 23.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.